I've typed over 3 million words while blogging over the years, but this is the first blog post that I've written by hand. That's thanks to MyScript Nebo, an app for iPad Pro and Apple Pencil that has the best handwriting recognition I've ever seen -- and I was a rabid Apple Newton user and developer. It's so good that it's been awarded as an Apple World Today Top Pick of 2016.
To get an idea of how Nebo works on your iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil, download the app -- it's currently free. Don't have an iPad Pro and Pencil? Watch this video and you may find yourself pulling out the credit card to buy them!
How good is the handwriting recognition? So good that it can understand my fastest scrawl close to 100% of the time with no delay at all. But most of the time when I'm typing a blog entry, I want to create headings (H1, H2), break the text into paragraphs, and make bullet lists. All are possible with very simple Pencil gestures.
For example, creating an H1 heading is as easy as underlining text twice. Underline once to make an H2 heading. Those same gestures, when applied to just one or two words in a much larger paragraph, double-underline or underline a piece of text. Put dashes in front of text on different lines, and you have a bullet list.
One old favorite gesture from the Newton days is here -- a quick scratch-out gesture deletes words or characters, but without the "poof" animation we had back in the 1990s...
The palm rejection of Nebo is perfect. Not once did having my palm on the screen of the iPad Pro cause it to misunderstand my scribbled notes.
Taking notes is often more than just writing text. When I was an engineering student back in the 70s, my notebooks were full of mathematical formulas and diagrams that usually showed loads on a structure. Can Nebo handle it? Sure!
By double-tapping an area on the screen and selecting Math from the pop-up menu that appears, you create a dedicated area that lets you start writing a formula. Once the formula expression is written, a tap converts the handwritten formula to a proper mathematical expression instantly. For those who are writing scientific papers in a LaTeX editor, copying an expression provides a version that can be pasted into a LaTeX editor.
Calculations can even be solved provided they're somewhat basic:
Diagrams and sketches are also a piece of cake. Sketches are the easiest, since they're not converted to nice squares, diamonds, circles, lines and so on. You can even define a shape as a doodle by tapping a shape icon and tapping "Set as doodle".
To create a proper diagram, just draw shapes and text as required, then tap the shape to convert it to a well-drawn image. I was flabbergasted at just how well this works; lines are straightened, the app attempts (very well) to align rectangles, arrow-like lines become perfect arrows, and so on. Need to remove some of the objects? Tap on one to highlight it and delete or edit it.
It's also possible to take a photo or select one from your Photos library for insertion into a note. This would be perfect for classroom note-taking -- grab what you can in text, then take a photo of a whiteboard that the professor has marked up with diagrams.
Once all of your notes are done (they're saved every few seconds), you can just shut off the iPad Pro, or you can convert the notes to text for immediate sharing, HTML for posting on a website, Microsoft Word format, and PDF format. I tried all of the conversions just to see how well Nebo handled them.
Text conversions are quite simple -- it just takes the text that has been converted from handwriting and copies it for pasting somewhere else. Converting a document to Microsoft Word format sends over the formatted text and all images, equations, diagrams and sketches that were in the Nebo doc. The same is true for PDF files.
By the way, Nebo works in split-screen mode on the iPad Pro, so it's quite easy to have it up in one window and be looking at a website or other reference in another at the same time.
Are there other functions and conversions I'd like to see? Sure! Maybe the ability to export in Markdown would be useful, or the But Nebo works flawlessly and quickly as it is right now, and should be useful to anyone who has an iPad Pro.
I'll go beyond just faint praise for this app; it is the first iOS notetaking app that I've actually wanted to use, and it's so far beyond the others available in the iOS App Store that it astounds me.
If you'd like to get away from the keyboard occasionally while writing or taking notes, then Nebo is going to be an app you'll want to get.